I was a women’s and gender studies major at a liberal arts college. As a first-year, I read texts like the Radicalesbians Manifesto and ACRJ’s resource comparing the reproductive rights, reproductive health, and reproductive justice frameworks. I took interdisciplinary classes on intersectionality and multi-dimensional struggles—across race, gender, sexuality, and class. The material was all there in front of me. But it wasn’t until I attended the CLPP conference in 2008, halfway through my college career, that I really started to embrace the notion that there is more than one way to fuel the revolution! It was okay that I hadn’t felt as strong a pull towards certain “issues” as I did towards others—it didn’t make my work, my vision, or the struggles I had personally encountered any less valid or authentic. In fact, realizing the co-existence of a multitude of experiences—including my own—only made my own fight stronger.
I am a first-generation Taiwanese American queer female-bodied person who grew up in upper-middle-class, mostly liberal, mostly white, suburban neighborhoods, but who was simultaneously brought up in a household that didn’t talk about abortion, sexuality in any form, or reproductive health. Human rights and social justice were topics never touched upon, at least in any depth. Whether it was because of the language barrier between my mother and I, or the cultural/generational divide, or because American politics were never mentioned by my parents (who, as permanent residents, pay taxes but cannot vote), I felt unable to take home any discussions or questions I had to my family. As a result, I came to distance myself personally from the issues swirling around me. I considered myself a feminist, sure, but because I thought I had to separate out gender from my other identities, I took on a supporting role to others’ activism.
Every year at our annual conference “From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom” we take a break from workshops to share in what has become one of the defining and most memorable parts of what we come together as a community of reproductive justice advocates and activists to do; the abortion Speak Out. Breaking Silences: An Abortion Speak Out happens on Friday night of the conference, and is a space for people who have had an abortion to share their stories in a safe and supportive environment.
This speech was originally presented by Anannya Bhattacharjee, from the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, at the "From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom" Conference in 2000, and later reproduced in The Spring 2000 issue of The Fight for Reproductive Freedom newsletter published by CLPP biannually.
When I started organizing with the CLPP student group in my first years at Hampshire College, I had pretty well-defined understandings of my own stance on abortion. Growing up in New York City, I had utilized Planned Parenthood for emergency contraception, condoms, and birth control as early as my first year in high school. Abortion was spoken about in high school. I got it-- I thought I did, anyway.
My third year at Hampshire, I found myself organizing on-campus housing for the conference. I was very involved in the student group and loved every minute of it. That conference weekend in April, I found myself--as the students and staff organizers on campus often do-- empowered and energized.
As CLPP celebrates 30 years of building the movement for reproductive freedom, I can’t help but reflect on where I was 30 years ago and feel grateful for the inclusive community that CLPP continues to nurture. Thirty years ago, I was12 years old, living in Alabama,and a world away from an inclusive community like CLPP. While I was living in a community that felt inhospitable to differences, CLPP was being created so that people outside the dominant culture could be embraced and celebrated.
This is a cross-post with Feministing.com where I will be live blogging from the reproductive justice conference.
CLPP's focus on memories from the past 30 years has had me thinking about what the conference meant to me personally. Last year I wrote about how organizing the conference activated me in the reproductive justice movement. I think it's so important as organizers and activists that we get something personally out of the work we do - we may have a strong connection to the issue but I think for organizing to be sustainable we need to see some benefit in our daily life. This often means finding community, a group of people who care about and support us. In college that's what the CLPP student group was for me.